We Need to Talk About VNETs – Azure Back to School 2022

Virtual Networks are arguably one of the most common resources in Azure. You will find them in the vast majority of environments facilitating some form of private or static network functionality. However, they haven’t always been around.

For those that remember the older Azure days, the ASM model didn’t have the same network concept. We have only had Virtual Networks since the introduction of ARM and they have changed drastically over the years.

Don’t get me wrong, at it’s core a Virtual Network is still just an address range. A private network of at least one subnet that sets your connectivity boundary. However, it has been a long time since I have seen a Virtual Network only operate in its basic capacity.

As a result of this ever growing list of services a Virtual Network offers, I think it is about time we talk about VNETs!

But aren’t VNETs straight forward? I deploy them all the time etc. Yes they can be, but they also offer an enormous range of network services. As an abstract piece of evidence, did you know that if you download the Virtual Network documentation page on Docs to a PDF, it is 848 pages!?

First off, what this article is not – an explanation of the basic elements of a VNET. For example subnets and address spacing. So presuming you have some familiarity, let’s discuss what I like to call secondary services.

So, what is a secondary service? For me, it’s a service that cannot exist, or serves no purpose without requiring a VNET. Think Bastion, Route Server, NSGs etc. they all serve specific purposes but commonly enhance the functionality of a VNET. Some of these, like Bastion, I feel would be better if included within a VNET resource, like Service Endpoints. However, that is for another post!

They are also drastically different in their complexity. For example, a Service Endpoint can be deployed without much effort and barely any planning (just double check those routes). However, Route Server requires significant elements of both.

While this list of secondary services is ever growing, I do not necessarily think this is a bad thing. I am always all for extra functionality. However, understanding that you cannot simply deploy a VNET and have the majority of network features that most people use is something that should be clearer. There are new services released like Network Manager that will help with management, but none offer a single view of everything.

To both convey the complexity, but help simplify things (weird I know) I thought it best to pick two services, create a test environment so you can try them, and discuss some of the components. So I’ve chosen two of the newer services:

  • Azure Route Server
  • NAT Gateway

Azure Route Server

Route Server is an excellent addition to routing services within Azure. Previously, there could be some routes originating from Virtual Network Gateways via BGP, the system routes and everything else would be via Route Table. While this works, it can be cumbersome and management at scale of Route Tables is almost non-existent. Route Server solves some of those problems by allowing BGP interaction between NVAs, Virtual Network Gateways and your VNETs system routing table. It’s also nice that it is a managed service, and HA out-of-the-box.

The objective of Route Server is to simplify and centralise routing management. This is helped by using a default peering process, meaning if your NVA supports BGP – it should work with Route Server. It also natively supports peering of VNETs with the same switch as “use remote gateway” meaning it slots very neatly into Hub-Spoke designs. Including the use of Virtual Network Gateways as peers (note VPN VNGs have to be configured in active-active mode).

As with many secondary services, Route Server requires a dedicated subnet in your VNET and each VNET can only have a single Route Server. The subnet does not allow the addition of an NSG or a UDR. This may flag as a concern as Route Server now requires a Public IP, however, this is only to guarantee access to management services and does not open the VNET (according to Microsoft). Also, no data traffic is sent between Route Server and your NVAs.

However, it’s important to note some of the configurations where Route Server alone is not the answer and in some cases begs the question that if I still have to use UDRs for that, why should I bother with Route Server? For example, ExpressRoute will advertise routes that will be preferred over Route Server routes, meaning you would need to overwrite this with a UDR. You cannot simply turn off the ER advertisement as this runs over the same peering functionality. A nice fix here would be to split that choice into two switches. One for VNGs, one for Route Server.

Another element that may be important is price. VNETs are free, UDRs are free, Route Server is far from that. On many large environments, this may be a negligible cost. However, you should weigh up the benefits vs the cost with introducing Route Server.

So to help, as promised, here is a repo that will build a test footprint for you. I’ve taken the Route Server tutorial using Quagga and integrated it with theother services from this article. You can follow the steps to complete the configuration and confirm you have a functioning peer. You should see output similar to the below from Cloud Shell:

Learned routes in Route Server

NAT Gateway

Implicit internet outbound is potentially one of the Azure network features that surprise most people. Deploy a VM into a VNET and you will be able to reach the internet with a random IP from the region deployed. Not exactly a dream scenario for many admins!

However VMs are not where I see this used most often. That doesn’t mean it’s not a good solution for VMs, it works exactly the same and works well. I just more commonly see this to facilitate static outbound IPs for PaaS resources. Like an App Service that requires a static IP due to a vendor allow list.

One interesting piece here, NAT Gateway when configured on a subnet, will take precedent over locally attached Public IPs and Standard Load Balancer Outbound NAT rules. However, UDRs will still overwrite this when advertising 0/0. Another item of note, no ICMP support, only TCP/UDP.

To try out NAT Gateway, I have again included it within a repo. This will also deploy a Ubuntu VM, which you can use Bastion to connect to and login. This VM has a Public IP locally attached but is deployed to a subnet with a NAT Gateway. So, use Bastion to connect, then simply copy the ipcheck script and paste it into the command line, it will give you an output similar to the below which you can then verify against your NAT Gateway resource. Proving NAT Gateway is taking precedence over the locally attached IP.

Locally attached IP
NAT Gateway seen as the outbound IP publicly


In closing, I think that more and more secondary services does two things.

  1. Makes networking in Azure ever more complex
  2. Solidifies VNETs as the most important core resource

Now, everyone should agree with number one. However, two may cause some concern, but hear me out. Regardless of your resource deployment, your application architecture etc. 99/100 you will deploy a VNET and 9/10 you will need at least one secondary service. This means that getting it right, having it well designed for deployment, management etc is crucial. Not everyone loves networking, but within Azure at the moment – you’ve gotta learn it!

Speaking of learning, if networking is your thing, check out the most appropriate Azure exam – Microsoft Certified: Azure Network Engineer Associate.

Azure Networking Security – Where to Start?

If you’ve read any of my blog posts regarding networking in Azure, you might have guessed it’s one of my favourite topics. For ITops, it’s one of the shifts in thinking required to make a change to cloud. As software-defined-networking is one of the core concepts required for a successful cloud implementation, it’s no surprise that the security of that networking is a close second.

Looking at it as simply as possible, good network security means allowing only required traffic and preventing everything else while logging what is useful for auditing. Azure offers several integrated services that can help achieve this.

With that in mind, there are three major scenarios to deal with when it comes to Azure networking:

  1. Azure Resource to Azure Resource
  2. Azure Resource to on-premises Resource
  3. Azure Resource to/from the Internet

I will reference each as we cover the different best practises available.

Access Control

Good network access control requires layering. In Azure, the most common networking concept is a vnet. A vnet does not, by default, get access to another vnet. However, within a vnet, every subnet, by default, has access to each other. So, the subnet layer is most likely where you will need to address access control. In Azure this can be done in two, free, simple ways. Custom Route Tables and/or Network Security Groups.

Custom Route Tables are exactly as they sound. They modify the system route table using routes you specify. If your route matches a system route, it will take preference, user defined routes always do. Similarly the lowest prefix match will always win. More on route tables here. CRTs are applied at subnet level and can quickly manipulate network traffic for your entire vnet. For example, preventing internet access by dropping traffic to

Network Security Groups are a little bit more complex in application, but their concept is straight forward. They are an ACL for your network. They can be applied at subnet or network interface level. While NSGs allow you to create complex and granular rules quite simply, managing them at scale can be a challenge. More on them here.


While the above allows for control of the network from a routing and access perspective, you may also need to control traffic by inspection and filtering. Within Azure, there are two main options for this; Azure Firewall or a 3rd party NVA.

Azure Firewall was released last year and is a stateful, firewall-as-a-service resource. It offers HA and scalability, however, it’s still a young product and therefore light on traditional network security options. More on it here.

Thankfully, Azure and network appliance vendors have been working better together recently. Most solutions you would expect are available in the Marketplace. The common gripe is that documentation can be light if not bad. However, if you need continuity with your local site, or a specific feature well then they are your best choice. My advice is to reach out to the Azure community if you are having issues, generally someone will have had the same issue and can help!


It’s best to start with some basic architecture decisions relative to your Azure perimeter.

  • Will Azure have a public perimeter?
  • Will it be inbound and outbound?
  • What requirements are there for a private perimeter?

Once the above are answered, you have a couple of well documented implementation options. They all operate on the same premise of layering. This allows for segregation of traffic most commonly with a firewall aspect. This combined with UDR can lead to a well designed and secure environment allowing only the network access required. Therefore layering everything that has been discussed already.


In Azure, there are two major tools to help you with this:

  • Azure Network Watcher
  • Azure Security Center

Network Watcher is one of my favourite tools in Azure. Within a couple of minutes, you can gain granular insights into your complex network issues with minimal effort. You can also integrate the output to other Azure services like Monitor and Functions to react to alerts and capture traffic automatically (*notes to self* must blog that).

Security Center, as it does for other infrastructure, offers insights into your network topology and can provide actionable recommendations at scale. Meaning you have a single pane to sanity check your network, regardless of how complex it may be.

If you take the time to understand and implement the above, you’re well on your way to having a secure networking environment. However, every single environment and workload should be treated as unique. The best network security is constantly auditing and reassessing itself. Be proactive to avoid having to be reactive!

As always, get in touch with any questions or to chat about your go-to network security steps.

How to – Troubleshoot your Azure Virtual Network Gateway

One of the most popular methods of connecting to Azure privately is via VPN. This can be a relatively simple process and is well documented by both Microsoft and 3rd party blogs. However, if you encounter problems, it can be difficult to get the data you need to troubleshoot efficiently. Especially if you don’t have access to both Azure and the local connection appliance.

In this post, I’m going to show you how to troubleshoot a Virtual Network Gateway and its VPN connection. As part of this, there are some required specifics:

If the above lines up with your environment, then let’s get started! (If not, get in touch and I might be able to help)

Troubleshoot a Virtual Network Gateway

Login to the Azure Portal, then click the search bar at the top, type “Network Watcher” and click on it to open your resource.

In the Network Watcher blade, under ‘Network Diagnostic Tools” select ‘VPN Diagnostics’.

You’ll have to choose a Storage Account and a Container within to run the tests. If you don’t have one, you can create one from Network Watcher. The Storage Account doesn’t have to be in the same location as your VNG.

Click the checkbox for the VNG you want to troubleshoot, then click ‘Start Troubleshooting’

Once complete, you will see your ‘Troubleshooting Status’, you can see that for mine above it is shown as ‘Unhealthy’. To get more details, there is a Details pane just below with a ‘Status’ blade giving you more information about the problem and an ‘Action’ blade which gives suggestions on how to resolve the issue.

In this instance, the VNG as a resource is healthy, but the Connection it’s facilitating is not, so we need to dig further.

Troubleshooting a Virtual Network Gateway Connection (VPN)

In the same location we ran troubleshooting for the VNG, we will repeat the steps and select the Connection instead of the VNG this time. Select your Storage Account etc. as before and then click the Connection to troubleshoot. Then click ‘Start Troubleshooting’

Once complete, you will again see a ‘Troubleshooting Status’ and can get more information from the ‘Details’ pane.

As you can see from the above, I have a very simple fix to make, as my pre-shared keys do not match.

Hopefully this helps you out when trying to figure out why those VPN tunnels aren’t working.

As always, if you have any questions, get in touch!

What is Azure Bastion?

Microsoft released an introduction video to Azure Bastion a couple of days ago and today a new post has gone live giving us all the details of Azure Bastion in its preview state.

First up, what is a Bastion? Often referred to as a jumpbox, jumphost or bastion host, it’s a server which provides access to a private network from an external network, most commonly the Internet. As it’s exposed to potential attack, bastion hosts must be designed to minimize risk of penetration. As this connectivity function is so widely used, bastions are quite common in the majority of environments. The alternative is to increase your perimeter exposure by allowing public access to your private resources directly. Little tip from me, please don’t do this!

However, management and administration of these hosts can be a complex and time consuming task. Thankfully, Microsoft have introduced a new PaaS based service – Azure Bastion. Which allows managed, seamless access to VMs in your private network via RDP and SSH over SSL.

Azure Bastion

Azure Bastion is provisioned directly into a virtual network, which allows bastion host and integrated connectivity to all virtual machines within that vnet using RDP/SSH directly from and through your browser via the Azure Portal.

Microsoft list the following as key features available right now as part of the preview:

  • RDP and SSH from the Azure portal: Initiate RDP and SSH sessions directly in the Azure portal with a single-click seamless experience.
  • Remote session over SSL and firewall traversal for RDP/SSH: HTML5 based web clients are automatically streamed to your local device providing the RDP/SSH session over SSL on port 443. This allows easy and securely traversal of corporate firewalls.
  • No public IP required on Azure Virtual Machines: Azure Bastion opens the RDP/SSH connection to your Azure virtual machine using a private IP, limiting exposure of your infrastructure to the public Internet.
  • Simplified secure rules management: Simple one-time configuration of Network Security Groups (NSGs) to allow RDP/SSH from only Azure Bastion.
  • Increased protection against port scanning: The limited exposure of virtual machines to the public Internet will help protect against threats, such as external port scanning.
  • Hardening in one place to protect against zero-day exploits: Azure Bastion is a managed service maintained by Microsoft. It’s continuously hardened by automatically patching and keeping up to date against known vulnerabilities.

And they list the following as on the roadmap for future release:

The future brings Azure Active Directory integration, adding seamless single-sign-on capabilities using Azure Active Directory identities and Azure Multi-Factor Authentication, and effectively extending two-factor authentication to your RDP/SSH connections. We are also looking to add support for native RDP/SSH clients so that you can use your favorite client applications to securely connect to your Azure Virtual Machines using Azure Bastion, while at the same time enhance the auditing experience for RDP sessions with full session video recording.

There are a couple of things to note as the service is in preview. As always, be wary deploying for production, there is no SLA yet.

The preview is limited to the following Azure public regions:

  • West US
  • East US
  • West Europe
  • South Central US
  • Australia East
  • Japan East

You have to register the resource provider manually to make use of the preview, instructions on how to do that here.

To use the Azure Bastion service, you need the following roles:

  • Reader role on the virtual machine
  • Reader role on the NIC with private IP of the virtual machine
  • Reader role on the Azure Bastion resource

Once you’re OK with all of the above, you can simply click connect on any of your VM resources and a new Bastion tab is available. From here you can launch your session to the VM right in the browser, which is pretty slick as it provides copy and paste and full screen functionality already.

RDP via Azure Bastion within the browser

One item I noticed from the FAQ is that you may need to use the preview link to access the resource deployment blade from the portal – https://aka.ms/BastionHost

Also of note, pricing! On the FAQ it states you will be billed partially. Not 100% sure what that means, so watch those usage rates. The pricing page is live however so check it out in advance here.

What is Azure Network Security Group?

If you’re considering Azure for IaaS workloads, the first aspect of cloud you will have to understand, design and deploy is networking. As with any other cloud, software defined networking is the foundation of IaaS for Azure.

You cannot deploy a workload without first deploying a Virtual Network. However, once you have a network, you then need to consider its security and specifically how you control its perimeter and access. The perimeter is something that requires its own post but for platform-native, have a look at Azure Firewall and for other topics, start by checking out the Security Center docs for an overview.

When it comes to access control on your Virtual Network, Azure offers built-in solutions for both network layer control and route control. Network Security Groups (NSG) function as the network layer control service. So, what are they and how do you use them?

NSGs filter traffic to and from resources in an Azure Virtual Network. Combining rules that allow or deny traffic for both inbound and outbound traffic, allows granular control at the network layer.

They can be viewed as a basic, stateful, packet filtering firewall, but what does that mean? First, lets note what they don’t do; there is no traffic inspection or authentication access control.

So how do they help secure your network? By combining 5 variables into a scenario which you then allow or deny, you can quickly and easily manipulate the access that is possible to your resource. For example, consider the following two rules:


Our first rule, allows RDP traffic to the resources protected by the NSG, but only from the scoped source IP. The second rule, blocks all traffic. The rules are processed in order or priority.

Source and Destination can use IPs, IP ranges, ANY or Service Tags. Service Tags really help you define simple but powerful access rules quickly. For example, consider the following change to our above rules:


We still allow RDP and we still block all traffic, however, we now also allow HTTPS traffic from any source tagged as VirtualNetwork. This includes everything in your Virtual Network, any peered Virtual Networks and any traffic originating across a VPN or ExpressRoute. A single Service Tag replaces multiple source ranges and simplifies management.

If you’re still struggling with the filtering aspect, check out this handy tutorial from Docs.

A couple of other items to note about NSGs; they can be applied to a Network Interface or a Subnet and they have some default rules. Which layer you apply an NSG to is important. Remember traffic is processed inbound and outbound in reversed layers. So traffic from a VM out hits Network Interface then Subnet. So how you scope and combine NSGs is critical to ensuring your access control is as you want it. There is a great example of this on Docs.

The default rules that exist within an NSG allow Virtual Network traffic IN and Internet traffic OUT. You can check out the full list for exact details.

As always, if you have any questions or require a steer on a specific scenario, please get in touch!